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Armenian Captive's Body 'Still Held By Azerbaijan'

Manvel Saribekian speaks on a YouTube video posted in mid-September.
Manvel Saribekian speaks on a YouTube video posted in mid-September.
YEREVAN -- An Armenian government official says the body of an Armenian captive who died under disputed circumstances in Azerbaijani custody earlier this month has not yet been handed over to Armenia, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Manvel Saribekian was reportedly found hanged in his prison cell in Azerbaijan on October 5, nearly a month after being detained by Azerbaijani troops.

Azerbaijani authorities have said they will investigate Saribekian's death. But they announced the 20-year-old "saboteur" committed suicide and that there was no evidence of injuries having been inflicted on him.

Armenian officials dismissed these claims, saying that he was tortured to death or "driven to suicide." They also insist that Saribekian was a civilian resident of an Armenian border village who accidentally strayed into Azerbaijani territory.

Armen Gabrielian, the head of a working group at an Armenian government-affiliated committee dealing with issues of prisoners, hostages, and missing persons, told RFE/RL on October 22 that up to now the Azerbaijani side has not given the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) a certificate confirming Saribekian's death. He said that is something that should have already been done.

Gabrielian says such behavior constitutes "a gross violation" of international humanitarian law.

He also claimed that the Azerbaijani side refuses direct negotiations with Armenian officials over the return of Saribekian's body, while the ICRC office in Baku, which is a mediator between the parties, "is having problems."

"The Azerbaijani authorities raise obstacles to the international organization's employees and impede their work," said Gabrielian, adding that before Saribekian's death Azerbaijan had refused to allow Red Cross officials to visit him.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan says Armenia has not yet returned the body of an Azerbaijani soldier killed in a June firefight in the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh, where skirmishes and armed clashes have intensified in the past four months.

The soldier, Mubariz Ibrahimov, reportedly died along with four Armenian servicemen in what the Armenian side said was an Azerbaijani attack on a Karabakh army outpost in the disputed territory. Azerbaijan denies that its troops were responsible for the skirmish.

In late July, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev called Ibrahimov a "national hero" and ordered his government to name a school and a street after him.

The Armenian Defense Ministry has until now referred all Azerbaijani inquiries about Ibrahimov's body to Karabakh's ethnic Armenian Defense Army.

Authorities in the Karabakh capital of Stepanakert, meanwhile, insist that Karabakh Armenians are not holding the body and that "the individual died in neutral territory."

Catholicos Karekin II, the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, reportedly met with President Serzh Sarkisian late last month to discuss the return of the Azerbaijani soldier's body.

Azerbaijan's Muslim leader, Sheikh ul-Islam Allahshukur Pashazade, had made an appeal to Catholicos Karekin to assist in the repatration through Russia's Orthodox Patriarch Kirill.